Holodeck

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See also: Room-scale VR

Introduction

Figure 1. Holodeck (Image: Stoppe, 2016)

The holodeck is a fictional virtual reality system in the Star Trek franchise. It is a technology that combines Star Trek’s transporter, replicator, and holographic systems, and was equipped in Federation starships during the later part of the 24th century. While the concept was introduced during the Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was also present in Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series. [1] [2]

Holodeck technology makes use of programs that are projected via emitters in a dedicated room. These can create “solid” characters and objects as well as holographic projections, such as in the case of backgrounds, to simulate specific vistas or scenarios. This means that the user can interact physically with the programs being run. The programs can be based on real or fictional parameters. [1] [3]

In terms of appearance, the holodeck is just an empty room with a high ceiling and a yellow grid pattern covering the walls (Figure 1). The large doorway that gives access to the room contains the control panel. [3]

This fictional technology is one of the most well-recognized elements of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager series, being used several times as a storytelling device. [4]

Use in Star Trek’s world

The holodeck has various uses in the world of Star Trek. For example, personal holoprograms can relieve the stress and isolation of living aboard a starship for crew personnel. It can also be used for scientific simulations and tactical training. Furthermore, the technology is also used off starships, as Holosuites. [1]

The holodeck experience raises the level of immersion to a degree that surpasses current virtual reality (VR) technology, making the boundaries between reality and fiction very difficult to distinguish. [3]

Holodeck as a storytelling device and perfect simulacra

The holodeck has been used several times during the TV series as a way of telling stories that show the thin line between reality and simulacrum, where characters immersed in the holodeck’s experience can become unable to distinguish what is “true” and “false”. [3]

The technology simulates life in its lushest form, coming to life when a program is started. When not in use, the holodeck is like a dark TV screen or a blank page in a book. Holodecks can be considered perfect simulacra, having not only the ability to tell a story but also to let the users actively live it. [3]

In the universe of Star Trek, there are writers and publishers of stories specifically for holodeck use - so-called holonovels. These combine a traditional narrative with the flexibility of a role-playing game. While the author constructs a story and rough plot, it is the holodeck user that provides the final narration. [3]

While the user sees and experiences an immersive world up-close, the program can be stopped at any time, creating a specific boundary between reality and simulacrum. [3]

Inspiration for the concept

The holodeck concept was inspired by Gene Dolgoff, “an innovator and entrepreneur in electronics, optics, holography, lenticular, stereoscopic, and other forms of 3-D imaging, and displays, with over 65 granted patents worldwide.” [4]

In 1964, Dolgoff became one of the first holographers, teaching a course in optics, lasers and holography at the City College of the City University of New York and later became Chairman, CEO and CTO of a Long Island-based company, 3-D Vision, that researches, licenses and markets new products and technologies for the 3D TV/computer field. [4]

Gene Roddenberry got interested in meeting Dolgoff after hearing about his experiments with holography and lasers. They eventually met in a New York hotel, with Dolgoff setting up hologram and laser equipment there. Dolgoff demonstrated and explained holography concepts to Roddenberry and introduced his own concept of matter holograms. According to Dolgoff, “at that point, holograms were used to generate three-dimensional images, but you could pass your hand through the images. So, with matter holograms, I’d realized that matter is made up of interference patterns of energy as well, and so you could actually record a hologram of the structure of matter and then reproduce the matter in the same way. So I then explained to Gene, not only is this the basis to teleportation in the future, but you could make a holographic environment in which people could interact with the objects and the scenes and everything, and create a recreation room, a training room, an area that could be for entertainment. We kind of agreed on the name “holodeck.” I put the holography part in there.” [4]

Real holodeck

Presently, there is no technological equivalent to the fictional holodeck technology. This concept requires a physics and mathematics that is still unknown to us, and a real holodeck will still require hundreds of years to be invented, if possible at all. [5] [6]

Nevertheless, the concept has served as inspiration for researchers in the field of virtual reality. There are also some technologies associated with the holodeck that are closer to reality than others. Holography is one of those examples. However, even today holographic technology is still basic when compared to that presented in Star Trek. Currently, holograms work by recording how light scatters off an object and then reconstructing that light pattern using a laser. The hologram is not free standing, cannot be easily moved, and is limited to the pre-recorded images - issues that are not present in the holodeck. [6]

Another piece of technology that is related to the holodeck, and that has a counterpart in reality, is artificial intelligence (AI). Again, the current technological development of such technology is not on par with the capabilities shown by the holodeck. The speech recognition, judgment of safety in a particular situation, and interaction between holodeck characters and the user are all things still beyond today’s technology. However, this is also an area in which developments are expected and eventually it may be possible to achieve the level of its fictional AI counterpart. [6] The holodeck technology that currently seems “impossible” is the one that makes the holograms solid. With our current knowledge, the replicator technology that sometimes is used within the holodeck also seems to be something that will never be achieved. [6]

The holodeck as served as a basis of inspiration for the field of virtual reality. It represents a point in which VR would be, in theory, indistinguishable from reality, and therefore a completely immersive experience. Current VR continues its development in the direction of more immersive experiences. [7] For example, Swartout (2001) created a holodeck-type environment (a virtual reality theater) as a training program. [8] Other researchers have used a wireless Oculus Rift headset and a room full of cameras to immerse the user in a virtual experience. [9] NVIDIA as also taken inspiration in the holodeck for its Project Holodeck - “a photorealistic, collaborative virtual reality environment that incorporates the feeling of real-world presence through sight, sound and haptics.” [10]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 StarTrek.com . Holodeck. Retrieved from http://www.startrek.com/database_article/holodeck
  2. Memory Alpha. Holodeck. Retrieved from http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Holodeck
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Stoppe, S. (2016). Getting immersed in Star Trek: Storytelling between "true" and "false" on the holodeck. SFRA Review (316): 4–15
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 StarTrek.com. (2014). Meet the man behind the holodeck, part 1. Retrieved from http://www.startrek.com/article/meet-the-man-behind-the-holodeck-part-1
  5. Hopper, D.G. (2000). Reality and surreality of 3-D Displays: Holodeck and beyond. Proceedings of SID Electronic Information Displays Conference
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Sutton, M. (2015). How Close are we to creating a star trek-like "holodeck"? Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/how-close-are-we-to-creating-a-star-trek-like-holodeck-1719306848
  7. Marks, S., Estevez, J.E. and Connor, A.M. (2014) Towards the holodeck: Fully immersive virtual reality visualisation of scientific and engineering data. Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Image and Vision Computing New Zealand
  8. Swartout, W., Hill, R., Gratch, J., Johnson, W.L., Kyriakakis, C., LaBore, C., Lindheim, R., Marsella, S., Miraglia, D., Moore, B., Morie J., Rickel, J., Thiébaux, M., Tuch, L., Whitney, R. and Douglas, J. (2001). Towards the holodeck: Integrating graphics, sound, character and story. Proceedings of Autonomous Agents: 409-416
  9. O'Callaghan, J. (2014). 'Holodeck' becomes a reality: Star Trek-style system uses a wireless Oculus Rift to visit virtual worlds. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2700073/Holodeck-reality-Star-Trek-style-uses-wireless-Oculus-Rift-visit-virtual-worlds.html
  10. Weinstein, D. (2017). NVIDIA reveals holodeck, its groundbreaking project for photorealistic, collaborative VR. Retrieved from https://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/2017/05/10/holodeck/

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